"God cannot communicate God's self totally to any one being, and so creates this array of beings so that the perfection lacking in one would be supplied by the other, and the total universe of things would manifest and participate in the divine more than any single being. The primary election, the primary concern, has to be the totality."
One of the things that perplexes me most about we human beings is the fact that we habitually expect a spiritual leader, innovator or teacher to "have it all together." When a teacher inevitably reveals the fact that he or she possesses "feet of clay," we tend to feel disillusioned and either lose faith in the ultimate meaning of life or seek out another "master" whom we believe TRULY has it all together.
One of the things I appreciate about Nature is the fact that each creature and each landscape has its own beauty - one that is not present in any other creature or landscape - and vice versa. For example, a moose in a willow pond embodies one form of beauty, a snowy mountain landscape carries another, a vivid green springtime meadow another, and a clump of ball cactus flowers yet another. Like the individual colors of a rainbow, each is incomplete by itself, yet becomes beautiful when combined with all of the others.
Over a lifetime of study, I've noticed that those with an innovative philosophy or breakthrough spiritual insight generally are not similarly gifted with the ability to PRACTICE their teachings in a consistent way. Their energy generally funnels into the NEXT breakthrough insight, while the means of practicing the first insight is generally left in the care of those who are more pragmatic or skilled at putting it into practice. Similarly, a person who knows how to practice the breakthrough insight in ONE arena of life is generally not equally skilled in applying it to ANOTHER arena. That task is left to still others.
The problem arises, I believe, because people have typically tended to embrace a masculine or vertical view of non-duality or Oneness as the only genuine type of union. That is, each spiritual practitioner is viewed in their own solitary identity as someone who merges with - and then issues out of - the One, with the expectation that they will then embody all of the purity and holiness of the One. This view of course has its obvious merits, and it is good to expect the very best from ourselves, from others, and from our spiritual leaders.
However, it fails to take into account the OTHER type of nondual union - the horizontal version - which realizes the fact that no single being is ever perfect on its own, not even when absorbed in union with the One. Rather, each of us needs the perfections embodied by all of the other beings composing the great Web of Life - the "Body of Christ" or "Net of Indra" - in order to make a complete and integrated Whole. This is, I believe, the more feminine version of nonduality that is especially needed in our time. For we are gradually beginning to realize that there is perhaps no such thing as INDIVIDUAL enlightenment. ALL of us - every personality, gender, race, culture, spiritual tradition, species and landscape - is always and forever needed to make a more complete Whole.
In this kind of horizontal nonduality, MLK's extra-marital affairs, for example, do not take anything away from his breakthrough work in the civil rights movement. Here, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta's fifty year dark night of the soul does not tarnish her ability to mediate the presence of Christ to thousands of dying people. Shunryu Suzuki's cancer does not lesson the importance of his pioneer work in bringing Zen to America, and Chogyam Trungpa's alcoholism does not diminish the incredible truth, creativity and freshness of his liberating Tibetan Buddhist vision.
Here I'm reminded of an interesting statement by Leo Tolstoy that I read in a new book by Matthew Fox just yesterday: "The poet skims off the best of life and puts it in his work. That is why his work is beautiful and his life bad." This is not to say, of course, that any of us should make excuses for our life and character not measuring up to our teaching. But at least we know that each of us is always and forever needed to complete the Whole, and that "we are all in this together." :)
Photos: Moose in a willow pond, Vedauwoo, WY; Mummy peak and dead subalpine fir trees, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO; Green meadows and red cliffs west of Loveland, CO; Ball Cactus flowers at Vedauwoo, WY. These photos were taken on May 12 and 13, 2016
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.